14 Popular Education, Participatory Research, and Community Organizing with Immigrant Restaurant Workers in San Francisco’s Chinatown: A Case Study
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246 14 Popular Education, Participatory Research, and Community Organizing with Immigrant Restaurant Workers in San Francisco’s Chinatown A Case Study CHARLOTTE CHANG ALICIA L. SALVATORE PAM TAU LEE SHAW SAN LIU MEREDITH MINKLER Popular education has been used across diverse settings, cultures, and populations and has been a major influence on the development of social movements and social change processes worldwide. Although most strongly linked with participatory research whose “Southern tradition” was deeply rooted in the approach developed by adult education scholar and practitioner Paulo Freire (1982; Beder 1996; Wallerstein and Duran 2008), popular education also has played a major role in Freirian and other approaches to community organizing (Horton 1998; Su 2009; see chapter 4). Indeed, such consummate community organizers as Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Ross received early training at the Highlander Center, in Appalachian Tennessee, whose use of popular education and literacy as a vehicle for civic participation and community organizing dates back to the center’s inception in 1932 (Horton 1998). As discussed in chapter 4, popular education focuses on the lived experience of the learners themselves and is defined as “a community education effort aimed at empowering adults through cooperative study and action, directed toward achieving a more just and equitable society (Arnold et al. 1995; Hurst 1995)” (Richard 2004, 47). In this chapter we review the shared roots and influences of popular education , participatory research, and community organizing. We then present a case example from San Francisco’s Chinatown that illustrates how popular education IMMIGRANT RESTAURANT WORKERS 247 techniques were applied in investigating the working conditions and health of immigrant restaurant workers and collaboratively advocating for sustainable improvements for workers. We describe how this approach helped to integrally weave together broader goals common to both community organizing and participatory research such as leadership development, empowerment, social justice through action, and improvements in worker health and well-being. We conclude by discussing lessons learned from the partnership about how popular education, participatory research, and community organizing can be mutually reinforcing in the struggle for social justice and health equity for marginalized populations. Popular Education As suggested above, popular education “serves the interests of the popular classes (exploited sectors of society), [and] involves them in critically analyzing their social situation and in organizing to act collectively to change the oppressive conditions of their lives” (Arnold et al. 1995, 5). Inherent to popular education is an emphasis on the perspective of the learner as well as larger educational and social change goals (Beder 1996). Beder (1996) identifies three key components of popular education approaches: praxis, collective and participatory orientation, and action. Briefly, praxis is action based on critical reflection (Freire 1973) and involves an iterative process that permeates decision making throughout a popular education endeavor (Beder 1996). The collective and participatory orientation of popular education underscores its focus on group process and the “owning” of that process, as well as the information uncovered by the members themselves. It further recognizes the need for the generation of group, rather than individual, solutions and for a sustainable infrastructure for “collective social action,” including community capacity building and the development and nurturing of new leaders (Beder 1996; Su 2009). Finally, the action component of popular education is reflected in the fact that this approach “is always rooted in struggles for democratic social change” and in the belief that “ordinary people can make that change” (Richard 2004, 48). Participatory Research When communities find they require data to support their organizing needs and efforts to improve their health and welfare, participatory research can provide an important and promising alternative to traditional outside expert–driven research paradigms. Participatory research has been defined as “systematic investigation with the collaboration of those affected by the issue being studied for purposes of education and taking action or effecting social change” (George et al. 1996, 7). Popular education and similar approaches from participatory research’s Southern tradition not only question traditional conceptualizations of the nature and production of knowledge but also emphasize the need for knowledge generation to be both democratic and emancipatory in its processes and outcomes (Wallerstein and Duran 2008). Among the central principles of this approach are that participatory research should be co-learning and mutually beneficial, involve an empowering process that contributes to community capacity, and balance research and action (Israel et al. 2008). While community organizing and participatory research have many similar goals, such as participatory and empowering processes and social change, those engaged in community organizing and participatory research...


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Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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